How it is: Chapter 20

“Uh….” The models looked at the awkward sight before them. Valerie stood there, stunned speechless while Justin and Timmy stared at her, terrified. This was not what the couple had in mind. “Well….. I’m going to go now.” Valerie turned around, clearly shaken by her encounter. She took off without looking back to see that Misaki and Tarou were approaching the Muji storefront. Timmy just looked at Justin, expectantly. “Was that your plan? To get me to talk to her?” He glared at him. “No! I wanted you to talk to Tarou!” “Wait, Tarou’s here?!” Timmy looked around and immediately noticed the Japanese boy standing just a couple meters off. Timmy froze in horror. “Okay, well we are blocking the entrance to Muji, so let’s go somewhere else for right now.” Justin ushered the three of them off to a couple of benches a block down from the store. “Here, let’s just sit here and talk it out.” Misaki suggested, looking at the two college freshmen. “I’m not ready.” Timmy frowned, crossing his arms and looking away from Tarou’s direction. The younger model just scoffed in disgust. Was this really the same person he used to look up to as a kid? It was hard to believe that, given how immaturely the Taiwanese boy was acting right now. “Timmy! Stop being a little bitch! Suck it up, and confront the problem like an adult!” Justin growled.

“Oh my fucking god. What the actual fuck?!” Valerie mumbled to herself as she continued storming back to campus. The last thing she wanted to do was see Timmy and his scrawny, cowardly face. To say that he was a disappointment as a human being was an understatement. He failed at taking ownership of anything, he tried to spread rumors, and while they used to be friends, Valerie felt like the Taiwanese boy deserved every ounce of misery he was receiving at this moment. “People like him, they just exist to hold us back.” She assured herself, trying to remove every thought of that pathetic excuse for an adult. Finally arriving at her dorm, Valerie grabbed her knife bag. She was going straight to work. Maybe being on the line was what she needed to brush off her steam. At this very moment, she felt hurt. Somebody she trusted and loved like family completely stabbed her in the back, on top of pushing her to the point of trying to kill herself. She felt hurt, frustrated, angry, there were a long list of adjectives, all negative, that described how her mood was when Timmy became the topic of discussion or interest. “I wonder if they’ll let me practice butchery today. I think I really need to put a cleaver through a pig’s head right now.” She growled to herself, gritting her teeth. At Wish, everyone knew that when Valerie was pissed, they needed to hand her off all of the primal cuts on the butchery station, or else she would not be pleasant to be around during service.

“So what exactly do we say in these kinds of situations?” Tarou looked at Misaki, puzzled. The Japanese boy was blatantly ignoring Timmy and Justin at this point. “How about you talk to Timmy.” The older model stressed the Taiwanese boy’s name as she turned Tarou to face him. The two former friends looked at each other and flinched. And then a few seconds later, Timmy was stifling a chuckle. Soon after, both boys were laughing. Misaki and Justin exchanged looks of confusion before stepping away. It seemed like Tarou and Timmy would be okay on their own for this. “Your face!” Timmy bursted into tears of laughter. “Even after all these years, becoming a model, you still look like the same crybaby Tarou when you’re scared!” “Shut up, dude! You should’ve seen the look on your face! I’ve never seen you look that scared before!” Tarou tried to calm down and take a deep breath, but he could not. This was just too funny for him. “Oh, Tarou, I missed this!” Timmy was beginning to realize just how important the Japanese boy was to him. They had been through so much together, and even after everything that happened to them, this moment just resonated with that fact. No matter how much changed, they could still enjoy a good laugh together.

“Oh geez, Butch Valerie is back!” Mako warned the line cooks. That was the kitchen’s nickname for Valerie when she was angry and needed to blow steam on the butcher station. Nobody felt safe with Valerie holding the cleaver, especially with her proficiency at using it. “Ah, shit. Not today!” Joseph groaned. “Uh, can I take my day off today?” Jacky looked at the sous chef and chef de cuisine. “Hell no.” They both glared at him. “We have to suffer through this together.” “Fucking… piece… of…. SHIT!” The girl swung down the knife through the neck of the duck carcass. Seeing Timmy’s cowardly, scrawny self angered her greatly. She was focusing all of her aggression onto the mountain of ducks that need to be broken down at this moment. “Oh, geez. Butch Valerie?” Janice walked into the kitchen to the loud noise the executive pastry chef was causing with her cleaver. “Yeah.” “Well, that means today will be a fast prep day. She’s going to breeze through the ducks, and move straight into the chickens, pork, lamb, and even after that, she’s still got enough steam in her to bust out all of the pastry prep, so this is a good day.” Janice giggled. Unlike everyone else, the executive chef did not mind Valerie’s bizarre and terrifying attitude because from an owner’s perspective, Butch Valerie was the most productive prep cook in the restaurant industry. So long as she was allowed to use a knife, Valerie would be able to breeze through any and all of the prep in the kitchen in a manner of two hours.

“Yeah, so ACU kicked me off their board.” Timmy explained. Tarou frowned. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Honestly, I’m sorry about being homophobic. This is all still coming back to me, and I’m just getting used to the fact that you could be into dudes as well. It’s a lot to take in.” The Taiwanese boy apologized. “Something I’m realizing is that coming out is a process for everyone. I’m sorry I did not come out to you earlier, when less was at stake.” Tarou returned the apology. “I do love you, man. You’re family to me.” Timmy hugged his friend. “Thanks, Timmy. You’re my brother. Not older or younger. Just my brother.” The model laughed. “But Valerie, she’s… pretty pissed at you.” “Yeah… I’m feeling a bit scared to confront her. What should I do about that?” Timmy looked at his friend, concerned. “I’ll help you.” Tarou offered. “She might try to kill me, but I’ll help you.” “Oh geez.” Timmy gulped nervously. “Also, can you do something about all of those clubs that are trying to passive aggressively assault me? It’s been making my life a living hell.” Timmy admitted, awkwardly. He did not want this apology to seem like it had an ulterior motive, but all of the people death-glaring him was incredibly uncomfortable. “What do you mean?” “All of the people in basically every club you’re a part of hates me.” Timmy frowned uncomfortable. “Oh… Because of the video.” Tarou grimaced. “Yeah, I’ll just tell my friends that we made up, and that you’re coming to terms with the whole situation at your own pace, and that at the time of the video, you were being recorded at the worst possible time.” “Thanks, bro.” Timmy sighed in relief. Apologizing felt good.

How it is: Chapter 19

“How was your day?” Tarou turned to see an exhausted Valerie re-enter their room. “I’m just shot. I’m going to bed.” She yawned, dropping face-first on the mattress. The Japanese boy, deciding it was best to continue doing his homework elsewhere, left the room, turning off the lights as he exited. “Goodnight, Val!” “Goodnight, Tarou.” She murmured before drifting off to sleep. The boy decided to finish his homework in the hallway, just so that he would not disturb her. He was grateful to Valerie for housing him and did not want to do anything to agitate her or potentially compromise his ability to live there. It’s been a couple weeks at this point, and Tarou was already adjusted to living with her. The two knew that being a romantic couple was out of the question at this point, given how both of them were emotionally, and how Timmy would be affected if something like this were to happen. Finally saving his paper, Tarou closed the window and looked at job openings for the summer. The summer was close, so he needed to start thinking about what he would be doing then. “Huh? A modeling gig in Tokyo?” Tarou noticed an email sent to him from the agency. “Summer job, will be modeling for the summer edition of Vogue’s Menswear Collection.” He read aloud, intrigued. “Will need basic Japanese speaking skills and prior modeling experience preferred.” The more he looked into it, the more Tarou wanted to apply for the job. At this point, he had nothing to lose. “Hell, let’s do it.” He submitted his resume onto the site and closed his laptop entirely. “It’s 2am already. I’ve got to go to bed.” He sighed, going back into their room.

It was the next morning, and Tarou and Valerie were eating together in the dining hall. “How was your paper? Are you done now?” The pastry chef looked at him. “Yeah, I’m done with it! I also applied for a modeling job in Tokyo for the summer!” “Oh my god! That’s amazing! If you get it, send me pics! I want to see and live that experience through you vicariously.” She giggled. “How about you? Any news?” Tarou smiled at her. “Well, I got this in the mail.” She pulled out an envelope. “Wait, what’s in it?” The Japanese model looked at her curiously. “You won’t believe it. I actually didn’t myself.” She opened the flap and pulled out the letter. Tarou quickly scanned through the contents. “Dear Valerie, we are going to be holding a special Warrior Chef: All Stars edition, where previous finalists and contestants from all seasons will have a chance to redeem themselves. Since you were the runner-up in our most recent season, we in the Warrior Chef team would like to cordially invite you to compete. Please contact us at wcascasting@gmail.com if you are interested in competing again and hope to hear from you soon! Victoria Clark, Executive Producer.” Stunned, he just looked at her, awestruck. “So are you going to take it?” Valerie just smiled in response to that question. “Well, what do you think? I’m a previous runner-up! I need to represent!” She beamed. “Thanks, Tarou. You helped me regain my confidence, and I will try my best to win this one for you.”

“Tarou!” Misaki ran up to the model as he exited the changing rooms. He had finished another session and was getting ready to go home. “Misaki! What’s going on?” He looked at her. She was exhausted from running. “Hold on!” She put her hand up, panting. “Catching… my breath.” She sighed, getting up and looking at the slightly amused teen. “What’s going on?” “It’s Timmy. He wants to talk to you.” She lied between her teeth. “Wait, what?!” Tarou could not believe what he was hearing. “Yeah. Hold on, come with me.” She led him out of the building. Misaki was determined to make these two at least confront each other. Whether or not they remained friends was another subject entirely, but at the very least, she wanted Tarou to be able to put that frustration behind him, while on Timmy’s behalf, she just wanted him to live a life that did not involve hulling himself away in his room. Nobody deserved to be robbed of their youth like that, in her eyes.

“Here we are.” Justin looked at Timmy. The software engineer lied to Timmy as well, telling him to meet up with him in front of the Muji at Noho so that they can go get food together in the area. Misaki was going to be taking Tarou to this location as well, so that the two of them could leave the ex-friends and roommates confront each other. “Hey, Justin!” Timmy sighed, looked around fearfully before walking up to his friend. He was terrified that somebody was going to verbally assault him. “What’s with you? Don’t worry, okay? These kinds of issues and problems, they’re not going to be around for much longer, alright?” Justin assured him. “What makes you so certain about that?” Timmy frowned. He was scared at this point. What did Justin mean by that? How could he assure that nothing bad was going to happen. “I just have a gut feeling that no matter what happens, you’ll come out of this stronger. And that’s a big reason why I wanted to meet up with you.” He grinned, although Timmy was still visibly disturbed. And this uneasiness would only escalate within a mere few seconds of Justin’s last statement. “Timmy?!” The Taiwanese boy’s shoulders shot up at the beckon of his name. He was being called by a very familiar voice. Turning around slowly, he knew who this was. It was none other than a very dumbstruck Valerie Ang.

Deciding that it was something to celebrate over, Valerie decided to go to her favorite store, Muji in Noho, to buy some stationary. She was running low on sketchbooks and liked the simplistic design of the Japanese notebooks that Muji sold. She was excited. Even though just a few months ago, losing the competition had gotten her down, Valerie was determined to do this competition, and prove that, even if she were to lose, that she could be a gracious loser. Going to Muji, she was skittish. She needed to continue brushing up on different recipes, dishes, ingredients, and mentally prepare herself to be going head to head with some of the best chefs in the competition’s history. However, in that very moment, Valerie’s shopping spree was cut to an abrupt halt. Describing her feelings in that moment, it was difficult. Rage, frustration, irritation, complete anger, a linger bit of pity, and ultimately, disappointment. Timmy Li was standing in front of her favorite store, not only blocking the entrance, by ruining what could have been a wonderful day for her. Without thinking, the pastry chef found herself blurting out his name, in disbelief that she would bump into him. His very presence made her bury the urge of holding him underneath a tub of water, before dropping a toaster in said bathtub. Timmy, uneasy, turned to her, shaken by her unexpected appearance. “Uh….” He trailed off. Just knowing that he called her a slut made him feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But the words “I’m sorry” could not come to him. He just found himself awkwardly standing there, staring at her, mouth agape. “Uh…” Justin did not anticipate Valerie’s appearance either. “Alright, so I said to meet up here!” Misaki ushered a still hesitant Tarou over to the front of Muji.

How it is: Chapter 18

“Wait, so you’ve been eating take out this whole time?” Justin eyed Timmy as the two were eating lunch together at a small diner in Chelsea. “Yeah. I don’t want to bump into Valerie or Tarou.” He sighed. “You’re still avoiding both of them?!” “Well, yeah. Since a ton of people hate me now, it’s hard to leave my dorm without getting death glares.” He sighed. Even when he goes to class, Timmy would face plenty of angry and dirty looks and people whispering threats at him. He did not feel safe whatsoever. Between the entire school of performing arts, Asian community, and the LGBTQIA community being mad at him, there were only few people who would treat Timmy mercifully. And by mercifully, Timmy meant outright ignore him. “You really need to talk to Tarou. I know you’re getting stressed, but avoiding him is only making the situation worse. A lot worse.” Justin wanted Timmy to just talk to Tarou, not even to mend their friendship, but to help his current living situation. To be in constant fear and hiding, that was no way to live. “I… I’ll think about it.” Timmy sighed. He could tell that Justin was getting visibly worried, and Misaki’s words were just ringing through his head. The way he was acting, it was causing those around him to worry. It was a cycle that he needed to break. He needed to stop acting in such a way that made others so stressed and concerned. He did not want to be a source of discomfort to those around him.

Walking to the curb, Timmy called an Uber for himself. He was feeling nervous at this point. Thinking about Tarou made Timmy feel like his stomach was twisting itself into knots. “You Timmy?” The driver, a gruff middle aged man looked through the window of the car. “Yeah.” He nodded shyly before getting into the passenger seat. Driving back, all Timmy could think about was hiding his face and avoiding being seen by anyone. ACU has made active efforts of alienating him, ranging from Alice ignoring him when they see each other in the engineering building to Gary glaring at him through the windows of the dining hall. At this point, Timmy did not feel safe. Nor did he know what to do. It was either live in fear and hiding from judgement, or confront Tarou, something he did not feel comfortable doing. He was afraid about what Tarou would do to him. Everything Tarou was saying and doing, it was unexpected. The Japanese boy Timmy grew up with, he was this young, unassuming, and loyal person. Since when did somebody so reserved and calm become so sporadic, overbearing, and dramatic in general? The Taiwanese boy sighed to himself, keeping his eyes to the floor. There was a looming anxiety bubbling in him. “What the hell do I do?” It was a question he had been asking himself for weeks now. And the answer was somewhere behind one of two really hideous doors. Timmy started to ponder why Tarou’s sexuality mattered so much to him. A large portion of this discomfort stemmed from all of those times Tarou insisted he was not gay, and how it felt like he was being lied to by his own best friend.

“He’s gay!” Two male eighth graders were mocking an already teary-eyed sixth grade Tarou. The 11 year-old was being made fun of for being on the effeminate side. “I’m not!” The chubby Japanese youth whined, trying to defend himself verbally, albeit poorly. No matter what the boy did, the two bullies continued to taunt him, kicking dirt at the younger’s face. “Hey, cut it out.” Timmy growled, walking up to them. He noticed his best friend laying on a tree, sobbing quietly as the two older boys continued to spew insults. “Oh, look, Glenn! It’s his boyfriend!” One of them laughed. “Yeah, Brent! What’s he going to do? Kiss us?” Glenn returned. “No. But you guys can kiss my ass!” Timmy shouted, kicking Brent straight in the stomach. “Oomph!” The 13 year-old groaned as he fell over. “You little punk-” Before Glenn could finish his sentence, Timmy punched him in the throat and proceeded to kick him in the groin. The older boy was on the floor, sputtering in fetal position on the grass. “Do that to my best friend again, and you’ll get worse treatment next time.” Timmy glared at the two before turning to Tarou. “What did they do to you? Are you hurt?” The boy wiped his tears and shook his head sheepishly. “They were just calling me gay.” He sighed. “But you’re not, right?” The Taiwanese boy looked at him, concerned. “No, I’m not.” Tarou shook his head. Little did neither of them know at the time, Tarou’s interest in males did not spur until high school. “What the hell happened here?!” Valerie ran up to the two of them, noting the two half-conscious teenagers laying in the dirt. “Timmy was protecting me. They were being bullies and calling me names.” Tarou admitted, half afraid that Valerie the hall monitor would tell on them. “Oh geez.” She shook her head. “Look, you’re my friends, so I’ll let this one pass. But please, Timmy, no more karate-chopping people.” She crossed her arms. “Now hurry up and get out of here. We can’t have you at the scene of the crime.” Thanks, Val!” The two quickly left the area. “And you two, if you try to say anything, I’ll tell the principal that you guys were trying to sexually harass me!” She frowned at Brent and Glenn. “We are going to say that this was you two trying to breakdance and failing epically.”

“Personally, I don’t know how I feel about gay rights and gay marriage.” Timmy admitted. He was in ninth grade now, and in his social studies class. They were discussing equality in gender roles and the topic of gay marriage arose. Timmy and Tarou were together, having a side conversation from the class’s discussion in the back of the room. “What do you mean?” Tarou raised his eyebrow skeptically. At this point, the Japanese boy was already slim and lanky, his features appearing more photogenic in general. This discussion was clearly unsettling to the aspiring model, who was just beginning to discover his sexual interests in men. After his first photo shoot, Tarou had been sneaking peeks at several of his male co-workers, and he found himself entranced by their physiques. “Well, I think that there’s a reason a man and woman can get married. And that stems from the fact that they can have children together. There’s no reason for same sex marriage, because these couples can’t have kids anyways, so why do they need marriage?” Timmy’s logic was that marriage was needed for parents to feel even more attached to each other and their children. Tarou was dumbfounded. That sort of logic made zero sense to the Japanese boy. But he could not bring himself to say anything at that point in time. But it was at moment that Tarou knew coming out to Timmy was not a possibility. He felt uncomfortable knowing that somebody could think in such a narrow-minded way. Timmy did notice Tarou’s discomfort, but could not take back the impact of his words. That was the way he was taught to feel. The Taiwanese boy always tried to rationalize emotions with logic and practicability, even when there were feelings and sensations beyond science and reason.

How it is: Chapter 17

That same day, Tarou was at work with Misaki, talking about the former’s current living situation after they finished another photo shoot. “So you two aren’t living together anymore?” The older model frowned. She was surprised to hear that Timmy had problems with Valerie and Tarou. “Yeah, and that’s why I’m living on Valerie’s floor at the moment.” The male model nodded. “I see, I see.” Had Timmy not been such a close friend of her boyfriend’s, Misaki would have most likely used her one favor from the yakuza to call a hit on the Taiwanese boy. Just the thought of somebody being that immature, inept, and cowardly, he was asking for at least, a slap to the face. Shaking off her dark, violent thoughts, the older girl looked at her friend. “I think Timmy is a complete and utter coward. Just the way he treated Valerie, it was sickening. Then to hear from you that he called her a skank or slut or whatever, that was uncalled for. And that’s just his beef with Valerie. The way he treated you was completely rude. It was homophobic of him to say that your sexuality made him uncomfortable. It’s not like you made advances on him, did you?” She looked at him, nervously. If Tarou had indeed acted with romantic intentions, then this situation could get very ugly. “I saw him more as a little brother or a son, but for him, he only saw my sexuality when that became a topic. He could not shake the thought or fear that I might be romantically interested in him. And his uneasiness towards it, it made me question my own feelings towards him as well. But seeing him act that way, it just reaffirms that this is why I saw him as a little brother or a son. It’s because he is less emotionally mature than I am.” Tarou summarized. “I see. And it makes sense. Him not knowing how to react to and live with somebody like you, it caused him to act really irrationally.” The reason why Misaki was able to make such detailed observations was because she was a psychology major in college, before deciding to become a model full time and abandon the psychology path entirely. There was something about being able to observe others and understanding their intentions and interpretations of life that piqued her interest.

After heading out of the agency, Misaki and Tarou were having dinner at Tarou’s favorite restaurant, Ngam; Tarou and Misaki both adored the chef, who was a model herself, and just enjoyed the elegant takes on Thai cuisine served at the establishment. Tarou sighed, feeling a little uneasy. Even though he was at one of his favorite restaurants, he was not feeling hungry. He was worried about what was happening to Timmy. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Misaki looked at him, visibly concerned. Tarou had been spacing out for a while. It was unlike Tarou, especially when he was a former fat kid, to leave a meal virtually untouched. “I’m just out of it. I’m still getting over what Timmy said about Valerie and how he outed me like that.” Tarou sighed. He did not think that anything could hurt him. But he wrong. Timmy’s words hurt. Seeing her friend this way, Misaki could not bring herself to feign smiling anymore. “Look, you two need to talk. Do you want me to tell Justin about the whole situation?” She offered. Tarou shook his head. “He’s not ready. I don’t think he’ll ever be ready to be confronted. He’s a fucking coward.” The model scowled. He was angry at this point. What did he ever do to deserve this treatment? It was not his fault he was born bisexual. Timmy’s immaturity, it was just ridiculous. Tarou was in disbelief that somebody he looked up to, somebody he grew up with, could have come along so little in life. Slowly, Tarou began to piece together the dots: his involvement with Timmy, or specifically, his smother of Timmy, had caused the Taiwanese boy to become so sheltered and immature. All of this time I tried to protect him, I only caused him harm. He started to realize. Yet, Tarou did not resent himself. How was he supposed to know that this sort of overbearing behavior was okay? He was still a student himself. He had a lot left to learn.

“Hey, what’s wrong,, babe?” Justin looked at a distraught Misaki. She was still shaken by Tarou’s recent behavior and attitude. It was later at night, and the couple were in their apartment. “It’s just frustrating. These guys, they’re legally adults. But they still act like such sulky teenagers.” She frowned. It was bothering her how badly affected both of these boys were acting. “I get how you feel. Timmy’s life has been going to shit because of this. Word got out about how he acted, and he got kicked out of ACU.” Justin explained. “Huh?” Misaki looked at him, perplexed. “Yeah, he just texted me. It did not sound pretty. Apparently, there were over two hundred protestors boycotting an eboard meeting because of him.” “Whoa.” The model was not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it was amazing to see that this many people cared about Tarou, or at least, what Tarou stood for. On another hand, Timmy was only 18, and he is being punished for being inexperienced, rather than narrow-minded. Misaki knew that even though he was immature, Timmy was not a bad person. He just was sheltered, therefore naive. “How’s he taking the end-result?” She looked at Justin, greatly concerned. “Not well. He told me he needed time alone.” Justin sighed, crossing his arms. He wanted to help Timmy, but he did not know what to do either. Whenever he got like this, Timmy would be impossible to reach. The Taiwanese boy would shut himself off from society. It was unpleasant to say the least. “What should we do?” He looked at Misaki, who was equally at a loss. “I think we need to talk to Timmy. And let him know what Tarou is feeling. Even if he is not ready to talk to Tarou, he needs to understand what’s going on.”

A week had passed since Tarou had been kicked off ACU board. The boy had shut himself into his room, only leaving for class. He felt mortified. Being removed from the club was already humiliating. He felt as if all of his hard work was unraveled in just a manner of minutes. Looking at Tarou’s empty bed, the Taiwanese boy felt himself flush with anger. Unable to contain himself, he slammed his fist into the stripped mattress. It bounced slightly as he left a deep impress in the fabric. “Fucking shit.” He cursed underneath his breath, ignoring the stinging in the side of his palm. He just needed to get off some steam. The thought of Tarou, it was concerning, yet aggravating. Why did somebody feel the need to be so controlling over him? He felt like he could not even breathe. Tarou was suffocating him. Ignoring the smell of the rotting pizza boxes piling up on his floor, the boy tried to drift off to sleep, or at least humor the notion: how can anyone sleep when they feel so constantly scared? Suddenly, Timmy’s phone started buzzing, much to the boy’s shock. It was Justin. “Hello?” He answered hesitantly. “You. I need to talk to you.” It was a woman’s voice. Misaki’s to be exact. “Uh…” The boy debated hanging up his phone, but he could not bring himself to. He feared the exact repercussions of angering Justin’s girlfriend. “Tarou’s devastated. I know you don’t care because you’re a heartless son of a bitch, but you need to know that the way you treat people, it needs to change. The fact that his sexuality made you uncomfortable, and on top of that, you treated him like crap when he was one of your closest friends! You pushed him away for a group of next to complete strangers, when he would have done anything for you. Do you not feel any shame for that?”

Timmy was not quite sure how to feel. Misaki, unlike the majority of his friends in the Asian community, was extremely upfront and direct. She did not sugar coat her words or statements. The Taiwanese boy was just taken aback, because of how unused to this treatment he was. “Well?” Misaki pressed again. She was still on the phone with him. “I’m just… I just need time. He’s exhausting. Looking at him, it just brings up a lot of anxiety and stress for me. I can’t feel safe or comfortable. I-I-I-” Timmy felt himself starting to break down into tears. There were too many emotions for him to process. Being around Tarou just made him extremely uncomfortable, and trying to unravel and comprehend everything Timmy was feeling at the thought of him, it was exhausting. “Look, I’m sure you’re not a completely shitty person. But you are being really selfish by not considering how your actions affect those around you. That’s the bottom line for what I’m trying to convey here. I believe that you and Tarou, you guys can make up and work it out. It might take time, even therapy, but I know you guys can do it and salvage your friendship.” Misaki reassured him. Timmy could hear what Misaki was saying, but he was still trying to recompose himself. He’s had more emotional meltdowns in the past two weeks than he has ever had in his entire life. He did not want to make a habit out of this behavior.

“Do you think I was being too harsh on him?” Misaki looked at Justin as she hung up the phone. “Well, you were definitely blunt. And honest.” Justin smirked. “But don’t worry about it too much. Somebody needed to tell him to be more considerate.” He sighed. As much as he cared about Timmy, Justin knew that the Taiwanese boy was old enough to be responsible for his own actions and decisions. He needed to take responsibility for the way he was treating others, or at least the way he was communicating with them. “Well, at least you agree that Timmy’s being a little pussy ass bitch.” Misaki sighed. As a model, she is used to dealing with passive aggressive, fake, and two-faced behavior all the time. Timmy’s attitude reminded her of that, and if she could stop another young adult from becoming like one of those monsters she works with, then the model would do whatever she can to end the vicious cycle. “Well, it looks like it’s getting really late. Let’s go to bed, babe.” Justin yawned, stretching his arms. “Yeah, let’s do it.” She sighed, getting up from their couch, and heading off to their bedroom.

How it is: Chapter 16

“So to begin today’s board meeting, let’s go over the money from our last event.” Alex started. ACU was meeting that same night Valerie and Janice spoke, in a classroom in the College of Arts and Sciences. He turned to Gary, who was ACU’s current treasurer. “Well, looking into our ticket prices, we charged $7 per person. Our attendance was good. We got 300 people, so that’s $2,100. And we promised each club that attended $100. We had 15, so they get $1,500 from us, and that means our club got a profit of $600!” He smiled. Despite Gary’s expression, everyone knew he was trying to avoid the major elephant in the room regarding the event. “But then there’s the additional costs. Facilities requires us to pay for the damages. And with the broken lamps and tables, that means we owe $750.” “Wait, so we lost $150 by doing this event?!” Alice looked shocked. “That’s… not good.” Timmy blurted, before everyone turned to look at him. He could tell that there was an awkward tension between him and his fellow officers at this point. “Well, at least the event was successful in terms of attendance. We can hold this again next year, and it’ll be just as successful, I’m sure.” Alex started. “Except almost every club refuses to re-collaborate with us for this…” Alice pointed out, referring to the feedback responses. The mood felt somber. And then it got worse. “No more ACU! No more ACU!” The officers turned to see a group of students, marching outside of their meeting classroom, holding signs with anti-homophobic messages on them, such as “Born this way” or “It’s the 21st Century, get with the times.” Timmy could feel his stomach sink with guilt at this point. “What the fuck?!” Alex and Holly peered through the classroom door window. They were being boycotted.

“Who the hell are you?!” Alex stormed outside and approached the students. “We are a part of the Gay-Straight Alliance.” A girl stated. “We don’t believe in what your officers stand for. The purpose of your club is to be all inclusive of Asians, yet you guys still think being bisexual is something to be afraid of. It’s disgusting!” She frowned as the other students continued marching in the hallway, holding up their signs and chanting. Alex was stunned speechless. Timmy looked in horror as a lot of the students in the hallway were glaring at him. “Get the fuck out of the hallway! You’re disturbing our meeting! I’m going to call campus security on you!” Alice threatened, grabbing her phone. She started dialing the number, only to be interrupted by one of the protestors. “Oh, they know. And it’s not disrupting your meeting if you’re not intruding on your classroom or physically harming you.” The male student pointed out. “We can get verbally disruptive, but so long as we do nothing to physically harm us, you can’t sue. Trust me, I’m a law student. I know this crap like the back of my hand!” “Shit.” The vice president cursed under her breath, out of options. “What should we do?” Gary looked at Holly and Timmy. He was normally the optimistic one, but in this case, even he was unsure of how to approach this situation. Unfortunately, the protests only got worse. This was only the beginning of a long, horrendous night for ACU’s executive board.

Suddenly, even more students started flooding into the hallway, many of which Timmy recognized. Amongst the crowd included Enya, Sara, and Melissa, as well as Akinori and Mari as well as the rest of the members of JBA, Vicky and her officers from the Modeling Club, the members of SSA, and the students from Tisch. At this point, they were surrounded, trapped, basically none of the ACU members could leave the room or go into the hallway with the sheer amount of protestors in that hall. And they all began to join in the protest. Had they not been there because of him, Timmy would have been amazed to see so many students rally around one cause. But in this case, he was horrified beyond belief. They were here to target him through his club. “Okay, what the fuck do you want from us? An apology?!” Alex roared. He was at his wit’s end. He was expecting today to be a simple meeting with a motivational speech at the end so that his club does not lose morale. Instead, it became his officers fearing for their lives, and the possibility of ACU being dissolved. As ACU’s president, this was a nightmare scenario.

“Alright, what are we going to do?” Holly whimpered, trembling. The girl was scared, exhausted, and starving at this point, having planned to get dinner after the meeting that they were still forced to be in due to the protestors outside. It had been three hours at this point, and everyone in ACU board was hulled up in their room, terrified. “Down with ACU! Down with ACU!” They continued chanting. Timmy was only half-listening to what everyone else was saying at this point. The Taiwanese boy was preoccupied with his own thoughts. He only wanted to be a part of ACU so that he could finally grow up. But in the process of becoming an officer, he managed to not only push away his closest friends, but caused harm to everyone he cared about. Valerie must hate him, especially if she heard that he called her a slut. Tarou must already hate him, because he refused to go to the Asian Cultural Awareness event, and he was okay with allowing so many of his friends from other clubs partake in this protest. And then his friends on ACU. None of them deserved to be put through this torment, especially because of his own dumb, impulsive mistake. “I’m not even sure at this point.” Alex groaned. He was getting fatigued too, from stress and anxiety. He did not want to be known at the president of ACU when it went under. That would be a hard thing to have to live with.

The board members sat in a circle, trying to figure out a proper solution. At this point, it was already midnight. “So we can go out there an apologize as a board?” The event coordinator, a sophomore named Sharon, suggested. “I think that might be the best course of action.” Alex sighed, resigning to any option at this point. The officers got up and quietly walked into the hallway. The protestors all went silent as they saw the entirety of ACU board standing before them. “Hi, everyone. So we all want to apologize for our officer, Timmy’s actions. He was being rash and did not mean what he said. We’re sorry.” Alex took a slight bow. Everyone else on board quickly followed. As he was in mid-bow, Timmy could feel that all of the protestors were glaring at him. “That’s not enough!” Somebody shouted in the crowd. “We don’t care if you apologize as a board. He’s the one who needs to learn a lesson for what he said!” Another protestor agreed. At this point, Alice and Alex looked at one another and exchanged nods, before turning to Timmy. “Timmy, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to ask you to resign from ACU.” Alex sighed, looking genuinely sorry to let go of such a devoted member. Timmy could feel his throat dry up as he tried to speak. The words just came out in croaks. “I understand. And I really am sorry for all of the pain and fear I caused everyone here.” He could feel the tears rolling down his eyes. “The person who made the comment, he’s no longer an officer. We just removed him from our roster, and we again deeply apologize to everyone who was offended by what he said.” Alice declared. All of the protestors, satisfied with the announcement, slowly filed out of the hallway. Following them, ACU’s officers. Timmy stood there, alone in the empty hall, devastated.

How it is: Chapter 15

It was Thursday, early in the afternoon. “Hey, how are you?” Janice and Mako looked at Valerie as she stepped into the kitchen. They could both tell that she looked exhausted and bothered. “I did not get a lot of sleep last night. One of my best friends who had a crush on me, he basically bullied me into trying to kill myself, and then he called me a skank in front of everyone I knew.” Valerie clammed up at that point. She felt like she spoke an uncharacteristically large amount, given how quiet and reserved she normally was at work. She felt her entire right arm convulsing with rage. It was one of the few times she wished she was a butcher at the restaurant. She could really use a cleaver on something at the moment, just to blow off some steam. Imagining that the pig or chicken carcass was Timmy, since both of those descriptions suited him at this very moment. “Here, come with me.” Janice pulled her aside. The executive chef looked greatly concerned at what she was hearing. “Wait, but I have prep to do-” Valerie tried to interject. “Mako, you’re in charge! Keep making sure that prep is going on schedule! It’s a Thursday, so we aren’t going to be as busy, so you guys should be fine without us for a little bit.” She shouted. “Alright, chef!” Mako called back as the two girls walked into the restaurant’s seating area. “We can’t have you going into service like this. We are going to talk a little bit.” Janice explained.

“Alright, so I just need a second here to unravel what’s going on. So you’re saying that you wanted to kill yourself?” Janice looked at her. “Yeah.” Valerie sighed. “Why?” “It happened around the time the finale aired. All of the comments, saying how I was an idiot, it was just coming back to haunt me. And it was because I made desserts only on that finale, and I make desserts here, so work was a constant trigger.” She started. “Okay, well that was you over a year ago, alright? You were a dumb 17 year-old. You’re going to make mistakes when you’re that young. Hell, I make mistakes now, and I’m 26!” Janice confessed. “What?” Valerie looked at her in surprise. “Yeah! A couple services ago, I accidentally look a ramekin full of sugar to the pass, and sprinkled sugar on the venison loin. I tasted it, because it did not feel like the malden salt, but at that point, I had already put it on the meat, and we had to re-fire it.” Janice rolled her eyes. “But in your situation, trust me, I know what it’s like. Yeah, I won my season, but the way I won it was too controversial. People kept on telling me that I did not deserve to win, and that I was a gimmick. I got eliminated fourth, and only got back in because of the Redemption Creativity Challenge in the last round. It sucked. But I just started to ignore that, worked my ass off, and that’s why I got a Michelin star.” Valerie nodded. It was surprising for her to actually have this time to speak with Janice on a one on one basis.

“So what exactly did your friend say that made you try to act on these thoughts?” “He said that I would go from being a joke to a has-been.” Valerie frowned. “Look, you will only be a joke if you let others get to you like that. You are a hardworking and determined young woman, and that’s exactly why I promoted you to executive pastry chef. And I know you probably think this, but I did not promote you so that you can copy and replace Namie. I wanted you to lead the pastry department with your own techniques and vision.” Hearing that was a huge relief. “Thank you, Janice.” Valerie smiled. “Stop thinking about what others say about you. I don’t know about your personal life or decisions, nor I should ask, since it’s not workplace appropriate, but if they want to call you a skank or whore, don’t listen to that. Even if you are promiscuous or whatever, your work ethic and passion for your industry, that’s what they should be focusing on. People who spread rumors, they have too much time and insecurities on their hands. Don’t stoop to their level. Don’t let what they say get to you. Confidence comes from working hard and gaining experience. Doubt comes from sitting around, being too sensitive and unproductive. You have so much experience already, I just want you to take that and own it.” What Janice said, it was eye-opening to Valerie. “You’re right. I need to. Thanks, Janice” Valerie nodded. The two got up and returned to the kitchen. “And that friend of yours, cut him off. He’s not worth your time or attention. He owes you an apology. Until he gives you that, just forget about him. Focus on other things, and honestly, don’t wait around, expecting an apology either. Do things with your time.”

“Hey, feeling better?” Jacky looked at Valerie as she walked up to the pass with her cherry dessert. Like they suggested, Valerie opted for a honey-goat milk-vanilla panna cotta instead of the yogurt, and it tasted phenomenal. “I’m feeling good. How about you? How have you been?” She smiled. “I’ve been alright. You know, living the chef life.” They chuckled together, as the two walked back to their respective stations. “Alright, so next order. Three ube doughnuts, followed by that, two olive oil cakes.” Valerie read off the checks. “Heard!” Daphne and Megan chimed in. For the first time in a while, Valerie felt in control. Orders were coming in, and being sent out with no issues. Megan, Daphne, and her, they were working together seamlessly. I got the doughnuts out of the frier, and I’m tossing them in the cinnamon-sesame sugar right now, chef! Give me 30 more seconds!” Daphne cried. “30 seconds, heard!” “Here, chef!” Daphne handed Valerie three bowls and the components to go into it, which the chef quickly plated up. “Daphne, bring these two the pass.” “Got it!” The cook walked down with the three bowls on a sheet tray. “Here’s the olive oil cake, chef.” Megan presented Valerie the two plates. The chef quickly finished the plating on those as well. “Alright, Megan, bring those up to the pass.” “Thanks, chef!” Megan smiled as she walked up with the two desserts.

“Man, that was probably one of the best services we had in a while!” Megan smiled. “Tell me about it.” Daphne grinned. The three were cleaning down their station, and celebrating a very successful dinner service. “It’s good to have the Valerie we know and love back.” They looked at her. “Thanks, you two. I wouldn’t be the chef I am without such amazing pastry cooks. Literally everything you two brought up for me was perfection.” She beamed at the two older women. It was remarkable to think about how Megan was 27 and Daphne was 43 with a son, that the two would give her, a 18 year-old, so much respect. When Valerie was first promoted to chef, she was nervous. Even though she worked there longer than Megan had, she felt that Daphne was deserving of the promotion. “Say, Daphne. How come you did not take the promotion to executive pastry chef?” She looked over the mother. “Well, Janice and Namie did ask me, but I rejected the offer. Yeah, the pay is nice and all, but I have a family to raise too. If I was the executive, then I would have to be too preoccupied with menu planning and coordinating with Janice. And then don’t get me started on those events in the summer. You’ll have to travel a lot and it’s going to be a major pain. I’d prefer to just stay in New York with my family.” She sighed. “Besides, Ben’s getting to a difficult age. He’s 12 and thinks that he’s the boss of everyone now. I’d rather be here, keeping him in his place.” Keeping him in his place, huh? Valerie thought to herself. We all have a place where we fit in and thrive…

How it is: Chapter 14

“Wait, so you slept in the hallway?” Valerie looked dumbstruck and horrified. She was eating breakfast with Tarou in the dining hall when the model told her what happened the night before, sans Timmy’s feelings. “Well, you don’t need him. Here, grab some of your stuff. You can sleep on my floor.” The pastry chef offered. “Thanks, Val.” Tarou smiled. It felt good to know that he had somebody to rely on when things got tough. That person used to be Timmy, but now Valerie was starting to be more like his rock. And she felt the same way with Tarou. “No problem. Hanging out with you is a lot of fun.” She admitted. “I missed being able to just goof off with you.” The girl giggled before stopping herself. She was not one to giggle. It felt really unusual to her. And then it started to settle in: she just asked the boy she had a crush on since freshman year of high school to live with her. Were there not steps that preceded this? Valerie felt like she skipped ahead of a lot of cornerstones in a friendship or relationship and just plunged into the deep end. The girl started to feel awkward at her own proposal, but she knew that, her feelings for him aside, the model needed a place to stay, and she could offer him one. Tarou, on the other hand, was oblivious to Valerie’s feelings for him. He just felt vulnerable and helpless, and needed somewhere safe to shelter himself from Timmy.

Valerie’s single room was not terribly big. Granted, it was designed for one person, and in Manhattan, where rooms were small to begin with, it would be about the size of a walk in closet. It was later in the afternoon, after class. Tarou settled in a mattress pad on the floor. He did not care about the space. The room was only going to be where he slept. “Are you all-good?” Valerie looked at him. “Yeah.” He nodded, as the two walked out of their now-shared room. They both had work and needed to head out. Unbeknownst to both of them, they were seen by one of Valerie’s floor mates and an ACU officer, Holly. The girl looked intrigued, seeing Timmy’s really attractive roommate walk out of Valerie’s room with her. At first, she did not pay much attention to it. She assumed that he was just going over to hang out. Until later that night, when she saw both of them walk back into Valerie’s room as well. “Oh my god, they’re fucking.” She gasped in horror. Grabbing her phone, she texted Timmy. “I just saw your roommate. He’s hooking up with my floor mate, Valerie.” In his room, Timmy picked up his phone, and read the text. “WHAT?!” He screamed, slamming his fist into his wall. It left a fairly deep dent, chipping away the paint and revealing the brick beneath it. Timmy did not care though. As much as his hand hurt, his heart hurt more. He felt genuinely betrayed.

The next morning, a lonely Timmy got out of bed. He had very little sleep that night. He was too angry. Eyes red from crying, he quickly got changed. Looking at Tarou’s empty side of the room, he frowned. “Fucking bastard.” He growled, cracking his knuckles. A part of him wanted to throw the empty bed out the window. It would have made him feel a lot better. But he had to get that out of his system. Today was the day for the Asian Cultural Awareness Event for ACU. As sophomore rep, he was in charge of representing the club during this event, and had to be composed. If he let himself slip and lose composure here, then that would make a horrible first impression for his first ever event as an officer. He worked this hard to get on board, attending every event and getting to know every officer. It had finally paid off, and now he just wanted to continue working hard to make ACU the best club he can. At this point, aside from his computer friends, ACU was all the boy had left. He was not going to lose this on top of Valerie and Tarou. He could feel himself shaking from anger again at the mention of their names. Logging onto FaceBook, he pulled up Tarou’s account. “Block user?” A small window popped up. Hesitant at first, the boy clicked the “Yes” button to confirm.

For the Asian Cultural Awareness Event, it took place in the Rosenthal Pavilion, a large room normally equipped with several round tables and windows that overlooked the city. In this case, the round tables were removed and replaced with rectangular booths, each representing a different country. “Wow, we really got every club. Even JBA! And they never want to do things with us!” Alice giggled. “Yeah…” Timmy sighed. If it was not for Tarou, the Japanese Business Association would not have agreed to coming. “Hi.” A tall, tanned junior, Akinori approached Alice and Timmy. He was Tarou’s president. “Thank you for having us.” He bowed politely. Even though he was being amicable towards Timmy and Alice, the presence of the Japanese Business Association just made the Taiwanese boy uncomfortable. He felt uneasy because of how close the club was with Tarou; there was a part of him that was worried that Tarou had already told his fellow officers in the club about his current situation with Timmy. “Well, if you need any other help, feel free to ask Timmy or any of our other reps!” Alice smiled. “Alright, I’ll be sure to!” Aki grinned, walking off. “Hey, what’s wrong? You looked kind of… out of it.” She looked over at him. “It’s nothing. I’m just a little tired is all.” Timmy lied through his teeth. Timmy normally hated lying, mostly because he was not very good at it; keeping a straight face was a constant challenge for him, and it felt morally wrong. But in this situation, what else was there to do, other than lie?

The event started to drag on forever, or so it felt for Timmy. No matter where he was, he constantly bumped into JBA officers, who would constantly mention Tarou to him. “Hi, I’m Mari. Nice to meet you. I’m the freshman representative.” A small girl smiled at him. “Hi. I’m Timmy.” He grumbled. “Oh! I think Tarou mentioned me to you.” She giggled. “How is he?” “I don’t know.” Timmy froze. He was not sure what else to say, so he accidentally said the truth. “What do you mean?” She raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you like his roommate?” She pressed. Timmy started to feel a lump form in this throat. “He’s not living with me right now. I did not want to live with somebody who’s bisexual. And he’s sleeping with that skank baker, Valerie!” He burst, unable to hold the truth back anymore. Unfortunately for him, the officers of ACU, JBA, and the Singapore Student Association overheard him. “Valerie? Like Valerie Ang? And with Tarou, JBA’s hot treasurer? No way.” One of the girls in SSA whispered to her friend. “Wait, so they’re dating? And I didn’t know he was bi. That’s actually pretty interesting.” Akinori looked at his sophomore rep, Taichi. Unfortunately, the rumor spread through the entire hall, with everyone thinking that Tarou and Valerie were having sex. “What?!” Melissa, Enya, and Sarah screamed. “NO! TAROU!!!!” Melissa flipped over a table as Enya put her leg through a nearby cutout. Sarah just began sobbing hysterically. “YOU LIED! YOU TOLD US YOU’D SAVE YOURSELF FOR MARRIAGE!” Despite escalating the situation, nobody stopped Melissa and Enya’s rampage. Everyone in the room was too preoccupied, being repulsed at Timmy’s statements. “I think we should leave.” Somebody suggested. And then surely enough, all of the other organization’s officers and event-goers left the venue in a rush.

“Well, that was shit.” Alex growled. The ACU officers had to stay after the event to clean up the mess Enya, Melissa, and Sarah caused. The entire room was a mess. The floor was covered in torn up posters and broken glass. Two wooden tables were smashed into pieces because of Melissa, who was a black belt in krav maga, decided to unleash hell upon them in a fit of rage. In terms of the event, it was a complete failure: all of the other clubs were unwilling to collaborate with ACU again because of the incident. Not only for the commotion that Tarou’s fan club caused, but also because of Timmy’s comment on Tarou and Valerie. “We do not condone homophobia. We will never work with ACU again. Have him issue an apology to his roommate.” Read one of the feedback responses, from the Taiwanese American Student Association. All of the clubs were sent a survey to fill out once the event was over, and these were filling in quickly. “He was born bisexual, he did not choose to be that way, nor should he be treated like the plague because of it. For a club that promotion inclusion, you guys should know better.” This was what the Chinese Student and Scholars Association stated. “How dare one of your officers call somebody a skank. We know Valerie personally, and she is nothing close to promiscuous.” That was another comment, this time by the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality. “This is a nightmare.” Alice sighed, pinching her temple. This event was the definition of a PR nightmare. “Hey, Timmy, how are you feeling? You know you can talk to us about these kinds of things too.” Gary looked at the shaken freshman. “Yeah, we elected you because we wanted you in our club. If other clubs don’t want to work with us or whatever, then it’s their loss.” Holly reassured him as well. But Timmy was still mortified. No matter what Gary and Holly said to comfort him, he felt entirely responsible for the chaos that ensued. If only he had kept his mouth shut. “It’ll be okay.” Holly and Gary hugged him.

“Wait, he called me a skank?” Valerie received a FaceBook message from one of her friends, Alexa, in the NYU Hospitality Facebook page. The two were still in her room together, later that night, getting ready to sleep. “He outed me?!” Tarou could feel himself feeling nervous. Apparently all of the Asian community’s officers knew that he was bisexual now. “Wait, look at this.” Somebody had uploaded a video of Timmy and Mari at the event. “Aren’t you like his roommate?” She asked him. “He’s not living with me right now. I did not want to live with somebody who’s bisexual. And he’s sleeping with that skank baker, Valerie!” He shouted back. The video cut off at there. The model turned to his friend. He was not sure what exactly to say. “Well, he’s dead to me.” She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. Tarou was still speechless. Not knowing what to say, he decided to scroll through the comments. “This homophobic little shit needs to be expelled.” “Where does he get off, calling somebody a skank?” “Well, peace, ACU. I’m not going to attend your events anymore.” Suddenly, Tarou’s phone stared going off. He was receiving a ton of messages. “Are you okay?” “The Gay-Straight Alliance wanted to interview you.” “I just saw what happened on FaceBook. He’s the worst.” There were at least 50 messages that read along those lines. It was overwhelming. And then the model noticed he received an invitation. “You are invited to join the group, Boycott: ACU and its derogatory ways.” Looking at the page, it already had 200 members, including all of the officers from JBA, SSA, TASA, KSA, NSMH, CSSA, the Gay-Straight Alliance, the Modeling Club, and a lot of students from both the Hospitality and Performing Arts schools.